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It’s crazy how your needs change when living on the water. Essentials for living on a sailboat will be different from the items you need on land.
Alternative living brings challenges. You’ll need specific things to solve those problems.
On a boat, everyday life revolves around resources and having quality sailboat essentials to withstand a marine environment. From everyday household items to kitchen tools and even what you wear – you’ll learn to be thoughtful of everything you bring into your tiny floating space. Keeping things small, easy to clean, and durable are all things to consider.
Here are ten things you need on a boat and how they make our daily lives onboard easier.
1. Stainless Steel Clothespins
BBL (before boat life) in my Colorado condo, I did not need a clothespin and hadn’t given one thought about them. Those were things my grandma used to dry laundry in the Stone Age.
It turns out clothespins are essential to my new liveaboard life. (And having given up a lot of modern conveniences, I also have quite a lot of questions for my grandma now.)
Clothespins secure all my clothes, cleaning rags, dishcloths, and towels to the lifelines. They are the means of making wet things dry and decreasing the smell of mildew on the boat.
The Henry Berry & Dairy Clothespins are the king of clips. Seriously, I would’ve never thought I could praise a clothespin so highly. These also made our list of the Best Useful Gifts for Sailors.
- Highest quality stainless steel clothespins (made in Italy)
- Rustproof, fade proof, will not get hot in the sun
- Special design allows these clothespins to not lose grip, even in strong winds
- Available in various color options
2. Handheld Vacuum
A good vacuum is essential for efficient cleaning on a boat. This is a crucial item we use multiple times a day.
A handheld vacuum and its attachments can help you clean things in all sorts of nooks on your boat. The foam flooring in our cockpit also stays clean for longer with a daily vacuum.
We bought our Dyson V7 when we decided to buy an RV. It was priceless in the RV and has made an excellent boat vacuum (especially with a pet).
Handheld Vacuum Options
The Dyson V7 Car+ Boat model pictured above is no longer available. We haven’t been able to find another vacuum with 12V charging capabilities (if you know of one, please drop it in the comments!)
For a similar vacuum, Shark’s handheld is highly recommended.
If you use rechargeable power tools, a more rugged option is the matching vacuum component. We have a few of Kobalt’s battery-powered devices, including their wet/dry shop vac which is relatively powerful and especially handy on a boat. RYOBI also offers a handheld vacuum if you already own their suite of tools.
If you are unfamiliar with these brands, their benefit is offering interchangeable lithium batteries that work with all your tools!
Cleaning on the boat can eat through paper towels. To eliminate the cost, storage, waste, and provisioning details that come with buying paper towels, we searched for a solution — a way to kick disposable paper towels to the curb.
Enter E-Cloths. These are durable micro-fiber cloths that clean with only water and do a fantastic job at it. These also made our Zero Waste Swaps list.
- Microfiber cloths that are perfect for cleaning bathrooms, kitchens, and more
- Cleans with water only
- 300 wash guarantee
- 5-pack also includes a window polishing/cleaning cloth
Check out this e-cloth set to get you started.
4. Swim Leggings
I discovered the beauty of swim leggings (or tights) a few years before life aboard. Even then, I knew they would soon be a key ingredient to my boat uniform.
They are comfy, practical, and keep the sun off your skin. They are pretty stylish as well. They are perfect for kayaking, SUP, snorkeling, or just going for a dip in the water. I also wear them underway and on shore excursions.
- Ideal for water activities such as swimming, surfing, snorkeling, waterskiing, and more
- UPF 50+ sun protection, quick-dry fabric
- Chlorine and saltwater resistent
- High-rise fit
My Experience with Different Brands
I have tried Solbari leggings, which are UPF 50+, but I still love the more snug feel of Seafolly’s version. Unfortunately, they have been hard to find and are not UPF-rated, so I’m looking for other options. I plan to try Coolibar’s legging since the quality of their other products I have is top-notch.
5. Dock & Bay Towels and Hair Wrap
One of the first things you’ll learn when living on the sailboat is that you’ll need to up your towel game. Gone are the days of your average cotton towel.
Thankfully there are lots of choices out there. We particularly like our towels from Dock & Bay. They are great for beach days. They shake out quickly and dry in no time.
Many of the towel patterns include white, so they will show stains if you aren’t careful.
I also live in their hair wraps. Perfect for wrapping up your strands after a swim or walking from the shower in the marina.
- Absorbent, quick-dry, and sand resistant
- Compact and lightweight
- Great for travel, swimming, camping, and more
6. Scout Bins
If you aren’t familiar with Scout, they make nylon storage (among other things) that holds up great on a boat. They are easy to clean, they fold down flat if needed, and above all, they are very durable.
The big bins are great. Unlike plastic containers, you can fold them up to fit through the cabin door (a problem I hadn’t even considered until it was an issue). Once through the door, you can set them up in the cabin to hold a massive amount of provisions.
When it comes to lounging, nothing is better than Sport-a-Seat. These are big in the boating community for a good reason.
They live up to their reputation and make a very regular appearance on our trampoline for sundowners.
These adjustable seats can go anywhere, withstand the elements, and make any spot on (or off) the boat the perfect lounging area. I love that no matter where the view is, I can be comfortable when I plop it down.
Captain Ross (a decent size guy) loves that he has a mobile, adjustable seat with good support.
- Sturdy and durable – these seats are made for boats and the marine environment
- Quality Sunbrella cover that repels water and dirt
- Handle for easily moving around
- You can lay it down flat and use it as a cushion in the cockpit
Check these out on the Sport-a-Seat site here.
8. Breeze Boosters
A real godsend for liveaboard life.
We lived on the sailboat in Georgia in August, so we know hot. This sailboat cruising essential made all the difference. Sleeping at night at anchor was never a problem, thanks to the Breeze Booster.
These fold-up wind catchers secure to your hatch and force air down into the boat. They make sleeping and living on the boat much more comfortable during the summer months.
- Keeping air moving through the boat, especially in the summer heat
- Holds up in the sun if treated with 303 Protectant
- Easy setup and tear down
Check these out on the Breeze Booster site here.
NOTE: A wooden bar is placed inside the hatch to mount the Breeze Booster. Built-in sliding bug screens won’t work with the bar inserted. The company sells bug screens to fit the Boosters, but we like our sliding screen’s ease. We opted to remove the wooden bar and attach S hooks to the tension lines. We then connect those to D-rings/loops already mounted on the boat.
9. Potted Herbs
Fresh herbs are an easy and fun way to boost flavors in the galley. Although not as “essential” as other items on this list. Being able to stretch my skills and be creative in the galley is important to my sanity, which is very essential!
Where fresh herbs shine is about 7-10 days after the last provisioning. When the fresh veggies are running dry, a little fresh herbs make a difference in a meal.
How to Use Herbs
- Green onions are great for supplementing bought green onions (and easy to plant) – you can regrow green onions in a glass of water, but a pot will keep them growing for longer.
- Rosemary and thyme are perfect for savory Italian, and a requirement for homemade veggie broth.
- Mint and basil make delicious pesto for freezing – also great in curries and other Thai dishes. Basil is a star on homemade pizza.
- Also, mint = mojitos
10. Magma Nesting Pots
Cooking is such a staple of boat life. I would almost say it’s a required hobby if you are going to be living on the hook.
So, what is essential to any good cook? Cookware. Yes, the vessel for your dish. But can you have cookware that is conveniently stored in a small space AND excellent quality?
You can! The Magma set is the perfect nesting cookware, and it’s also very high quality.
The pots cook evenly and hold heat beautifully. If there’s one thing that brings me joy when cooking in my tiny galley, it’s these pots. These also made our Sailboat Galley Essentials list.
We purchased the 7-piece set, but I have slowly added the additional pieces in the Magma 10-piece set to round it out. You can also purchase cookware directly from Magma here.
Read more about why these pots are great for sailboats and the Best Nesting Pots for Small Spaces.
Finding Your Sailboat Essentials
When preparing to live on a boat, I thought I would need things I never use. Others I never dreamed of needing, and now use daily.
I encourage you to read as much as you can and weigh your new-found knowledge with what you know about your living habits. Also, look at the type of boat you have and how you plan to cruise.
Everyone’s essentials will vary because everyone lives on a boat a little differently. Please share some of your must-have items for comfortable living on a boat in the comments below.
Want more lists of boat gear for your liveaboard life?
View our guide for lists of essential sailboat gear, galley must-haves, what to wear sailing, and more.
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